NBA Regular Season 2012-2013, Game 1:
Dallas Mavericks (1-0) @ Utah Jazz (0-0)
I was lucky enough to shoot off some emails to some pretty amazing people this week. Kirk (@KirkSeriousFace) at Mavs Moneyball (The SB Nation Mavs site) and Jonathan (@JonathanTjarks) at SB Nation Dallas are both awesome dudes. I'm less awesome. They asked me some original questions about the Jazz, and you can read my answers here (MavsMoneyball) and here (SB Nation Dallas). In return, I did not ask them anything that original . . . but here are their answers!
1. There have been a lot of changes from the Dallas Mavericks team that won the NBA Title a few seasons ago and the one that is lacing them up in 2012-2013. Since that time a few trades have been made, a few free agents signed, and a bunch of other internal movements made. What has been a bigger story for Mavs fans -- the contributors from the Finals teams that have gotten away, or the free agency coups that did not happen?
Kirk: I think that depends who you ask and when you are asking because that's really a heart or mind sort of question. The rational fan in all of us understands why Mark Cuban and GM Donnie Nelson let Chandler and Terry walk away; pairing Dirk with a rising superstar as he ages simply makes sense. That they've swung and missed on every single potential free agent is a combination of bad luck and misreading the tea leaves. It's so incredibly easy to arm chair quarterback this situation, particularly when Eddy Curry factors in to the rotation (even though he looked like an actual basketball player last night). Not resigning those players looks worse and worse in retrospect, as building a new team from scratch every year has to grate on Dirk, who has given his heart and soul to Dallas. For me, I wish they would've resigned Chandler. It smells of greed when you part with the number 2 center in the league in an attempt to go after the number one center in Dwight Howard.
Jonathan: Tyson Chandler, Tyson Chandler, Tyson Chandler. While I understand the logic of trying to chase Deron Williams and Dwight Howard last summer, letting the NBA's Defensive Player of the Year walk for nothing will go down as the biggest mistake in Mavs history (bigger than even letting Nash go). Dirk waited his entire career to play with an elite defensive center, won a title in the one year they played together and then ... it was back to the days of having Brendan Haywood manning the middle.
Dirk and Chandler were the perfect combination: the most versatile offensive 7'0 in the NBA and the most versatile defensive 7'0. They were a 7'0 Voltron, and while I don't think they would have won a title last year due to the increasing age of the rest of the supporting cast, those two could have formed a championship-caliber core for the next 3+ seasons. There's no guarantee Dallas ever gets another player as great as Dirk again, and to watch them willingly punt away chances at being a title contender as he gets older is still maddening a year later.
2. What was the whole Lamar Odom issue? Did you think he should have been a contributor last season? How will you feel if he has a bounce back year and averages 12 ppg / 6 rpg / 3 apg off the bench in Los Angeles this season?
Kirk: Fun fact, I often went on 40 tweet rants about Lamar before it dawned on me that maybe I should write full on sentences for a blog; you know give my rage some form and function. He absolutely should have been a contributor. While the dirty secret on Lamar is that in the last 2 years his athleticism has all but disappeared and its drastically effected his confidence, the mental part of his game should have translated to him being a vital cog in the Dallas offense. But judging everything from his body language to his TV show, he did not want to be in Dallas at all and that oozed through into everything he did last year. It was absurd the defense he got from folks nationally; he disrespected the city of Dallas, the game of basketball, and himself.
As to your other question... as a fan of basketball, I want him to do well. His combination of talents is unique in our game. But the fan in me finds fat Lamar hilarious. And if he fails it will validate my feelings of rage about him. Since I don't want to be a truly horrible person and because I think its likely, I think he has somewhat of a bounce back season.
Jonathan: Obviously, a major part of the issue was Odom's off the court issues. For whatever reason, he wasn't comfortable playing or living in Dallas, while the older a player is, the harder it is to get away with coming into the season out of shape.
At the same time, there were a lot of basketball reasons why things didn't work out for him in Dallas. Neither Odom nor Dirk have the defensive ability to play at the 5, especially considering how many poor defenders on the perimeter the Mavs had last year. Neither was very comfortable at the 3 either: Odom thrived in LA taking bigger 4's off the dribble, but he spent way too much of his time with the Mavs bricking jumpers against quicker 3's on the perimeter. He actually played pretty well in the four games Dirk missed due to conditioning, but there just weren't enough minutes for him at the 4 in Dallas for it too work. I think this is the same problem that will ultimately sink Carmelo and Amare in New York as well.
3. Why are people sleeping on the Mavericks this season?
Kirk: Well you look at their roster and its really easy to. Until last night's win over the Lakers I was probably sleeping on Dallas. I love my team, but the preseason results have been ugly. Then J. Doug Hatings tweeted this last night "The washed up player brigade just isn't that washed up" with regards to the Dallas roster. I think he's right. Just about every single player on the Dallas roster has been written off. I think that will continue to be the case for a great part of the season as it often takes conventional wisdom months to catch up to results based reality, if Dallas performs better than expected.
Jonathan: If Dirk were healthy, I'd say people are sleeping on the Mavs. Since he isn't, and knee injuries for 34-year old players are always a tricky proposition, it's hard to say that people are underestimating Dallas. I think there is enough talent on this roster to survive, but make no mistake about it, survival is going to the Mavs goal without their franchise player.
One player I think could benefit from Dirk's absence is Brandan Wright: he really came on at the end of last year, and he could give Dallas a lot of athleticism and shot-blocking in the front-court, especially next to Kaman or Brand. On offense, the Mavs have a lot of guys who can score 20+ points in a given night, but no one whose proven they can consistently do it. If Dirk comes back at 100%, I think they can win a playoff series, but I don't see how they can beat the Thunder or the Lakers regardless.
4. Mark Cuban is still one of the best owners in the game. What's your take on the whole Deron Williams off-season flub? Who messed up there, it seemed like a slam dunk for outside observers. Is Shark Tank that big of a deal?
Kirk: This is a great question and to answer it you must understand that not all of the Mavs faithful are on the same page here. Cuban apologists in this situation will tell you that, if we're all being honest, the extra money that New Jersey offered was the deciding factor. They're probably right. However, Cuban takes pride in being a hands-on owner. He loves that he's visible and that he's resulted in a lot of changes to the NBA. He defended his decision to let Chandler walk in a combative way. So skipping that meeting with Deron isn't just odd. It was vastly out of character. He needs to take some responsibility for that and up to this point he's been like a presidential campaign and has tried to spin everything his way. I'm not buying it. It was a mistake. If he would simply say that, it would be easier to move on as fans and I think it would look good to potential free agents. Always insisting that you are right is simply not a good look.
Jonathan: That's the $64 million dollar question in Dallas. It's hard to believe Cuban couldn't make the trip to Brooklyn to see Williams considering that he mortgaged the future of the franchise on that summer. At the same time, when you look at the comments Williams made about why he chose the Nets, particularly the part about what happens if Dirk is hurt, I wonder whether Cuban thought the game was up and wanted to spare himself the embarrassment of asking and being rejected. Brooklyn is the hot new franchise right now and you certainly wouldn't see Williams on the cover of SI if he had come to Dallas.
5. I can't avoid it any longer -- how are you guys going to do without Dirk Nowitzki? I have you treading water for another few weeks without him, but the ship sinks without him if he's out for 7 or 8 weeks (from back when he went under, not 7 to 8 weeks from Halloween night). What's your honest opinion of how you'll do in his absence . . . and how does that affect the team's playoff seed going forward?
Kirk:I'm not sure. I do think it gives guys like Darren Collison and O.J. Mayo a chance to figure out who they are without having Dirk as a crutch. The other side of that though is Dirk isn't able to establish a rapport with the new guys and Carlisle's system relies a lot on trust that your teammates know where to be at the right time. The early schedule is peppered with eastern conference teams and weaker western conference foes, so I think the goal should be to hover around .500. I honestly am not sure this team is playoff material; the West is DEEP once you get out past the Thunder. I think a 6 to 8 seed is achievable if things break right.
Jonathan: Already touched on this earlier, but it's going to be very tough for the Mavs without Dirk. I think, with him, they could have conceivably been in the #3-6 range, but playing without him for a month could sink their record to the point where they are competing for a #7-8 spot and a first-round exit.
There are reasons for optimism though: Rick Carlisle is one of the best match-up coaches in the NBA and he'll have a deep, veteran roster with a lot of possible line-ups on a night-to-night basis. Also, without Dirk on the floor, Dallas is, all of a sudden, a fairly athletic team. The only player left from the 2011 team is Shawn Marion, which means that Vince Carter is the only slow perimeter player and their overall defense should be much improved. On the other end of the floor, they've got guys who can get their own shot from all 5 spots on the floor, so the Mavs will be able to take advantage of opponent's weakest defender.
Delonte West is a really good player, but I think his loss could end up being a position for Dallas, as it will give Rodrigue Beaubois another chance to earn some minutes. Roddy B has never lived up to the potential he showed as a rookie, but a lot of that is because he's been blocked by more established veterans in the back-court.
BONUS QUESTION TO MAVSMONEYBALL!
6. In Utah we take great interest in Delonte West. What's been up with him these last few weeks?
Kirk: Well he's obviously not a member of Dallas anymore. There was a late push to trade bench guy Dominique Jones and keep West, but that didn't work out because Dom Jones is not good at basketball. As to the previous few weeks and West... we're all unsure. And because Dallas has a knack for keeping all news in house unless they want it leaked, we'll probably never know. It's sad because I think any Mav die hard loved his energy and his passion. That he was also dealing with a number of mental health issues (I wrote this the day of his second suspension, give it a look) made him a sympathetic guy to all of us. I hope he ends up somewhere that's beneficial to both him and the team. He needs stability to thrive. We all wish him well though.